Dawn of Second World War: Leningrad Siege

Leningrad Siege

Dawn of Second World War: Leningrad Siege

What is the Leningrad Siege?

In the early hours of 22 June 1941, Hitler’s Germany attacked Stalin’s Soviet Union. World War II had come to Russia. For Leningrad, the war meant blockade. Less than three months after the invasion, German Army Group North reached the outskirts of the city, in which some 3,000,000 people remained. Ultimate plans for the former imperial capital and cradle of the Bolshevik Revolution were to “wipe Leningrad from the face of the earth through demolitions.” But first, the city had to surrender.

City Blocade

On 8 September, the Germans severed the last main road into the city and the most lethal siege in the history of the world began. For 872 days the blockade stretched on, during which the Germans sat entrenched, encircling the city only miles from the historic centre. They tossed bombs in its direction, prevented supplies from reaching the starving civilian population, and waited for capitulation. Hitler had optimistically predicted the city would “drop like a leaf,” and menus were printed for the gala victory celebration that was planned at Leningrad’s plush Astoria Hotel. Instead, civilians dropped like flies in an enclosed microcosm with virtually no food, no heat, no supplies, and no escape route. People keeled over dead in the streets by the thousands, malnourished, exhausted, and frozen. The Blockade of Leningrad resulted in the worst famine ever in a developed nation – over a million people died. But Leningrad never surrendered.

The Art among the Bombs

Perhaps most astounding was that amidst the hunger and the horror, with daily rations amounting to two thin slices of poor quality bread, great works of art were created. Dmitry Shostakovich spent the initial months of the siege trapped in the city of his birth, where he composed the first three movements of his searingly intense Seventh (Leningrad) Symphony, which he privately remarked was a protest not just against German fascism but also about Russia and all tyranny and totalitarianism. The symphony’s most memorable performance occurred on 9 August 1942 in besieged Leningrad. As bombs fell nearby, a depleted, weakened, starving orchestra played to a packed concert hall of weakened, starving people. The performance was aired across the city via loudspeakers, some of which were directed toward German lines as an act of cultural resistance to atrocity.

The Leningrad Blockade was lifted on 27 January 1944, but the war raged on for over a year, as Soviet soldiers marched hundreds of miles towards Berlin. On 7 May 1945, the German High Command signed the unconditional surrender documents and the war that had claimed the lives of 25 million Soviet citizens was finally over. Because of the heroism of its inhabitants who refused to submit despite unendurable conditions, Leningrad became the first Soviet city to receive the Hero City award in 1944.

 

This blog was brought to you by Eliant, currently studying Russian at Liden and Denz

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